May 3 2022

Haines outlines proposal for eating disorder treatment facility

Residents of North East Victoria would have access to a specialist eating disorder treatment facility located in Albury-Wodonga under a new proposal outlined by Helen Haines today.

The Independent Member for Indi has written to both potential new health ministers, the newly-announced future Health Minister under a returned Coalition Government, Anne Ruston and the Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler to outline in detail what she describes as “the missing link” in eating disorder support services in the region.

Haines, a former nurse and rural health expert, has spent the last six months consulting with local survivors of eating disorders, their carers, and local expert clinicians, to develop the proposal, which would be a first for the region.

“Over the last few months, I have heard heartbreaking stories from people right across our region who needed support and didn’t get it. Right now, if you need treatment, you have to drive to Melbourne or Geelong.

“One local psychologist told me she had to turn away 43 patients with eating disorders last year because she was so overwhelmed. The system isn’t working.”

“I’ve heard from women experiencing eating disorders, who had to leave their children for months at a time, so they could go and stay in clinics in Melbourne just to access treatment. I’ve heard from parents who have had to leave their jobs so they can take their children to clinics in the city, on and off, for years, because we don’t have the right local services.”

According to Haines, a local treatment facility would have four key functions:

• Training local doctors to diagnose emerging eating disorders sooner and establishing clear protocols for referrals to specialists;

• Case coordination to ensure patients are properly connected with local mental andphysical health services, peer support networks, carer support, and coordinated care;

• Providing multidisciplinary outpatient services with a team of dieticians, physiotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists;

• Residential treatment and recovery facilities for patients with severe or complex conditions.

“We need a physical centre, built right here on the border, that can do early intervention to help people when problems first arise, that has a team of dieticians, psychologists, and physios that people can see, and which has beds people can stay in for as long as they need, to get treatment when they really need it,” said Haines.

The Federal Government has allocated $62 million to develop a network of six specialist eating disorder clinics around Australia, but the closest clinic will be located in Melbourne.

Haines called for a similar facility to be developed for regional patients.

“The very clear message people have told me is that we need facilities closer to home. I have spent my life working in healthcare in our region, and I know that if we are going to end the health disparities between regional and metropolitan Australia, we need to match our rhetoric with action.”

Haines said that a properly funded facility would not only improve patient outcomes but would reduce overall costs to the healthcare system.

“Some people I spoke to had been in and out of hospitals for 10 years. If we can diagnose and treat people sooner, then we reduce the need for more complex care down the track. So many people told me that they spent time in residential rehabilitation in the cities, only to return home, find they had no support, and relapse, ending up back in residential treatment. That is a terrible way to treat people, and it is the wrong way to prioritise health expenditure.”

Wahgunyah resident Natasha Kirk said she had experienced huge difficulties accessing services when she suffered an eating disorder:

“Living rurally meant limited access and availability of services. It took years for me to be diagnosed and receive any kind of assistance. The timing of eating disorder treatment is crucial as it is very hard for the sufferer to reach out for help and if and when they do if the service is not readily accessible the opportunity is missed, and the eating disorder tightens it grip. Hence, I had many years of illness progression that led to a severe and enduring battle with anorexia.

“A local facility would reduce the physical, emotional, mental and financial cost to all involved and ultimately save lives. Travelling for care provides a monumental barrier forall involved. We need a facility that can provide care at every stage and facilitate the sufferer integrating back into their local community with a team-based approach and ongoing support at each stage of the illness.

“If I had the opportunity for early diagnosis and intervention my severe and enduring illness trajectory would have been reduced. Travelling for care and having to leave my children at home absolutely prolonged and exacerbated the immense and complex illness I was dealing with. Leaving my children to access further care was debilitating on every level.”

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